Hunter brothers in front of tree farm machinery

(Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

It’s more than crops and cattle for the Hunter brothers

December 1, 2022 | Jeff Hutton

You would think brothers Nick and Mike Hunter would have enough to do. After all, they farm 1,500 acres of row crops and raise several head of cattle just northwest of Chariton.

But throw in growing an additional 20 acres of Christmas trees and shade trees for landscaping and residential use, and they’re just plain busy.

But maybe since it’s the holiday season, being busy while spreading a little cheer is worth it. For nearly 40 years, the Hunter Brothers sure think so.

Evergreens in field

Hunter Brothers Tree Farm

Welcome to the Hunter Brothers Tree Farm, where you can pick out a special tree that sits in your living room from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.

“We see this as a way to give back to the community,” says Nick, who, along with brother Mike, first planted trees in 1984 and began selling six years later.

Barn in rural Iowa

But it took longer than six years to grow Hunter Brothers into the tradition it has become.

The land where the trees are located was previously used for crops, but soil conditions were not ideal. A lot of clay and rocks in the soil made raising row crops challenging.

Both brothers knew the importance of diversity on the farm from their education at Iowa State University.

“To diversify, we decided to plant 500 trees,” says Nick.

They researched which varieties of trees to plant, not unlike what they do in seed selection and making input decisions on their row crops.

“It was a lot of trial and error,” Nick says. “We just learned as we grew.”

Their tree farm education meant learning which trees are suitable for Christmas trees versus what might be a good shade tree for landscaping or residential use.

“Fir trees for Christmas trees are not native, so they don’t like the heat or too much water,” Nick says. “Sometimes we have to bring some in during the holidays.”

The trees that do thrive, whether for the holidays or other use, must be sheared, trimmed and cared for every year.

Typically, a 6- to 7-foot tree takes about six years to grow — from a 2-year-old seedling to a mature tree.

Creating family traditions

Over the years, the operation and labor of love have grown. They added a tree barn and, in the mid-1990s, acquired an old schoolhouse, which now serves as their gift shop.

Sign in rural Iowa

The brothers, both ISA farmer-members, lived near the old Lucas County schoolhouse. When it was auctioned off, they jumped at the chance to acquire the school and relocate it to its current location on their tree farm.

Homemade wreaths, other gift items and hot chocolate inside the old school help draw holiday visitors, who show up the weekend before Thanksgiving and continue through to Christmas.

“It’s become a tradition for families,” says Nick, who adds that many come to the farm for their holiday photos. It’s also a chance for the brothers to reconnect with their children and now grandchildren, who help during the season with sales.

“We just love it,” Nick says, even though there is no rest during the five weeks when visitors can pick out a tree to take home and decorate.

Nick and Mike note that they are a full-service Christmas tree operation.

“We’ll cut it down, drag it down and bag it,” says Nick, who concedes they also have many customers who enjoy the satisfaction of doing the work themselves.

Friendly connections

For Nick and Mike, the best part about their tree farm is connecting with those who want to bring a little holiday tradition into their homes.

“Sometimes it’s seeing friends you haven’t seen in a year,” Nick says. “It’s rewarding when you see them come in.”

The farm is located one mile northwest of Chariton at 20755 490th St.